Supreme Court

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Westboro Funeral Protests


Today's decision is 8-1 in favor of the protesters' right to free speech with Justice Samuel Alito in dissent. Here's a portion of Chief Justice John Roberts' majority opinion:

Westboro believes that America is morally flawed; many Americans might feel the same about Westboro. Westboro's funeral picketing is certainly hurtful and its contribution to public discourse may be negligible. But Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials. The speech was indeed planned to coincide with Matthew Snyder's funeral, but did not itself disrupt that funeral, and Westboro's choice to conduct its picketing at that time and place did not alter the nature of its speech.

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

Read the full decision here.

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  2. Alito is such a pinhead.

    1. Not true.

      1. Going by his dissent, yes Alito is a pinhead.*

        * That’s being charitable.

      2. Then how do you explain him describing “bury[ing]his son in peace” as an “elementary right.” Sounds pretty retarded to me.

        Further I don’t see how we need a 15 page opinion and further concurring opinion to say: Congress shall make no law.

        1. You’re not a very good law student. Congress didn’t make the law Snyder sued under.

          1. The 14th makes the 1st apply to the states dip shit. But then you knew that didn’t you? Or do I need to write a 15 page opinion to make an offhand comment on a blog?

  3. yay.

  4. This is a slam dunk. I can’t imagine one idiot in the country who wouldn’t see this as an open and shut First Amendment protection.

    1. Can you imagine Alito?

      1. I read the Alito dissent quickly. It isnt horrible.

        Paraphrasing his decision:

        Most jurisdictions have laws against inflicting emotional damage. The majority didnt throw those laws out. If they exist, there is some line between protected first amendment speech and damaging speech. This speech crossed that line.

        1. Yes. Apparently, a single person’s speech can be emotionally damaging, but a group’s cannot… or something.

          1. I dont agree with Alito, I just said his dissent wasnt horrible.

            Personally, I have trouble with the emotional assult laws in general.

    2. Dang it, Epi, you stole my line.

      I can imagine precisely one idiot.

    3. Imagine it. From the NY Times article on the decision –

      Forty-eight states, 42 U.S. senators and veterans groups sided with Snyder, asking the court to shield funerals from the Phelps family’s “psychological terrorism.” [bold added to emphasize how fucking cowardly our elected officials really are.]

      1. No bold for “psychological terrorism”?

      2. Nice use of brackets there.

    4. This is a slam dunk. I can’t imagine one idiot in the country who wouldn’t see this as an open and shut First Amendment protection.

      The evidence is against your proposition. If it was such an obvious and easy case, then it would not have made all the news it has, a federal judge would not have ruled in favor of Snyder, and a SCOTUS justice would not have dissented.

      If you read the actual facts, complaint and rulings, you might find it’s not quite as cut-and-dried, simple as so many people keep making it out to be.

      If it were, it would never have made it to the SCOTUS in the first place.

      Easy cases sometimes make bad law too.

  5. These guys piss me off as a Christian, but I don’t believe in turning military members into a protected class, unlike many people I know.

    1. These guys piss me off as a Christian Human Being

      1. That too, but I can’t help but hate the association that comes with it.

        Of course, according to the Phelps’ I’m not a Christian at all, with all that icon-worship and whatnot.

  6. Once again, the Roberts Court gets it right. I know people can nitpick, but I’ve been enormously impressed with his Court. I can only remember one instance where I disagreed with a ruling and that was the whole “you get the right to remain silents when you ask for it” thing. I can’t remember anything else that they did wrong.

    1. Oh, and I love the fact that Roberts penned this decision! That ought to piss off some “conservatives”!

    2. I wonder if they would’ve gotten Kelo v. City of New London right.

    3. What about allowing kids to be strip searched for ibuprofen?

      1. Um… if you’re a law student, I think you might want to take another look at Safford v. Redding. Yeah, I know there was the qualified immunity for this one case, but the Court got the ruling on the matter of the case correct.

  7. these clowns have their protest rights. and the funeral attendees have the right to assemble around them, shoulder-to-shoulder w flags blocking-off any view of westboro.

    1. That’s just what the PGR does.

  8. The protester clowns should be treated the same way as blog trolls (in theory if not in practice): by ignoring them.

    1. If only their were a real life incif.

      1. If only their(sic) were a real life incif.

        There is, but there are statutes against murder. However, this:

        robc|3.2.11 @ 12:14PM|#

        Also why all states should have a “he needed killin” exception.

        is an excellent suggestion is theory. In practice, who would have moral authority of the death penalty, since the state having the death penalty is an abomination?

        1. Let it be known that for some infractions of the law, the state withdrawals its protection from that person. i.e. It’s not considered a crime by the state to kill them.

          I don’t think that the Westboro shitbags rise to that level, but I’d reduce the penalties on committing assault on them to the point it would only result in a modest fine.

          1. That’s pretty absurd also.

            The Castro regime relies on institutionalized vigilantism [I know; an apparent contradiction in terms] as well.

            1. I’m not saying I want to live in that world, but there is a poetic symmetry to it.

              Of course, it’s no more absurd than the folks who come here that don’t trust the USPS to deliver a letter across town, but are fine with a corrupt DA, and inept judge, and 12 morons who aren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty putting someone to death.

          2. Outlawing is actually unconstitutional in the state of Texas.

            1. Well that means Bang! won’t be very fun.

          3. I don’t know about that, but I could see a temporary insanity plea for “worthless fucking asshole rage”.

          4. There is a libertarian way to accomplish much the same thing. WBC has free speech rights, but not on someone else’s private property. If the cemetery and the street leading to it were private instead of public, then WBC could be arrested (or shot) for trespassing.

            1. Erm… in what state can you legally shoot someone merely for trespassing?

              1. I’m willing to bet there aren’t any. In Texas we can use force, but not deadly force, to terminate trespass. If Texas law doesn’t allow deadly force for a specific circumstance of protection of property, it is extremely unlikely any other state does.

        2. In practice, who would have moral authority of the death penalty

          Nic Cage

  9. In this case, the Roberts court does have a pro-business agenda. The Westboro clan is making a pretty penny off the various lawsuits related to their “protests”.

    1. The Westboro clan is making a pretty penny off the various lawsuits related to their “protests”.

      They are remarkably clever for a brood of consanguineal mutants. They remind me of this X-files episode.

      1. That episode continues to make my skin crawl. *shudder*

        1. You mean you don’t keep your momma under the bed?

          1. Ack! Damn you, SF. I’ve been trying to forget that scene for the past 15 years. . . shut up shut up shut up!

            1. Aw man, that mom was HOT.

  10. If there is a line between protected speech and infliction of emotional distress, I’d prefer the court not be too eager to draw it. This ruling is a relief.

    1. Huh?? Real Tony, or spoof?

      It’s very possible that this really is Tony, but I’ve never seen him defend anything freedom-related in these comment threads. I guess props where it is due. Glad we finally agree on something.

      1. There’s only one “Tony”? How is this proprietary handle enforced on an anarchist site?

        1. Good question.

        2. For one thing, I don’t care if you spoof me. I don’t come here to pad my ego. I come here to, um, why do I keep coming back?

          1. Maybe you’re a narcissist. That’s why the rest of us do it.

          2. Or maybe it’s for one more bong hit.

      2. It’s more his agreement with a republican that’s surprising than his defending freedom-related thing. And the lack of 100 further comments, or his libertarian-baiting “…but here’s how I’m a statist fuck” addendum.

        However, I believe it is the same Tony, it’s very similar to this comment:…..nt_1975336

      3. I’ve consistently argued in favor of the Westboro freaks on speech.

  11. Gotta agree with this one all the way. Fuck Westboro, but…”shall make no law”, etc. etc.

    Good call for freedom.

    1. “Snyder filed a diversity action against Phelps, his daughters?who participated in the picketing?and the church (collectively Westboro) alleging, as relevant here, state tort claims of intentional infliction ofemotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion, and civil conspiracy.”

      From the cert statement. No law made by Congress. Just trampling a civil action between two private entities.

      1. The 14th Amendment has incorporated the 1st Amendment against the states.

        State civil courts are creatures of the states.

        1. So should libel and slander be protected and not be allowed to go to civil court?

          1. Yes. Next!

            1. well, you like to (insert illegal activities) with (insert society’s protected group)! And I’m telling everyone!

              1. Knock yourself out. It’s probably all true anyway.

            2. How about fraud? That’s clearly speech.

              1. It isnt free speech.

        2. Then cite the 14th, but for FSM’s sake quit parroting the Federal statute about a state civil case. Also please note that SCOTUS did not strike down the state statutes passed by Maryland in the aftermath prohibiting demonstration on public land targetting a funeral. Basically, they just screwed Snyder out of the satisfaction of winning a civil case, since the damages had already been reduced to essentially zero by a state court of appeals.

          1. It is completely unnecessary to stipulate every time you mention the 1st Amendment that it’s been incorporated against the states.

            Since it has been and we all know that, referencing the 1st is perfectly satisfactory.

            And you’re right, the SCOTUS failed to follow its own reasoning to the logical and necessary conclusion. I doubt that’s mere incompetence; with the modern court it’s usually cowardice.

      2. What Fluffy said

  12. Alito’s opinion is not that surprising considering that he was the sole dissenter in US v. Stevens last year, the kitten crush video.

  13. The ruling is correct. Proper time, place and manner restrictions were put on these assholes. that is all we can expect in a free society.

    On the other hand, if I were on a jury, either criminal or civil, in a case where a parent went apeshit on one of these Westboro dicks, I would not convict, or find them liable. Jury nullification!

    1. On the other hand, if I were on a jury, either criminal or civil, in a case where a parent went apeshit on one of these Westboro dicks, I would not convict, or find them liable. Jury nullification!

      Perhaps ‘fighting words’ doctrine might come into play.

      1. Also why all states should have a “he needed killin” exception.

        1. “Yes, they deserved to die and I hope they burn in hell!”

  14. I think you pretty much have to do away with the tort for infliction of emotional distress.

    It doesn’t pass the laugh test and it never has.

    It’s very simple: I can’t sue Obama for intentional infliction of emotional distress and win, even though his statements hurt my wittle fweelings. But this Snyder person can sue the Westboro people and win.

    There’s no way to not conclude that this means that the civil courts are privileging Obama’s political speech over Westboro’s political and religious speech. Absolutely no way.

    1. Here is (one of) my problem with the IED tort and Im going to compare to physical assault, which might be a horrible analogy, but Im doing it anyway.

      If I hit two guys with a baseball bat, one a NFL defensive lineman and the other just a regular guy, Ive committed two assualts, even though the NFL dude laughs it off.

      If I say something hurtful to two guys and one laughs it off and the other breaks down in emotional distress, only one can sue me for IED.

      Same behavior, with same intent, but one has no claim at all against me, because he is stronger of mind.

      1. To me the fact that one person doesn’t break down proves that the speech isn’t really hurtful in any actionable way.

        Even if that wasn’t true, I think intentionally inflicting emotional distress should be legal and not punishable by the courts.


        A local business chooses to discriminate against blacks. [We’re in Libertopia where this is legal to do.]

        I engage in speech talking about what a cocksucker the owner of that business is.

        My intent here is to shame him. It’s to make him feel bad, so he’ll change his conduct. I am intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

        And you know what? I’m absolutely morally entitled to do that.

        1. The good news is that generally, judges are loathe to consider IIED. It is an extremely difficult tort to win.

        2. What if the person is a masochist? Is it intentional emotinal distress that I say masochist X is an upstanding, moral, brave, altruistic being?
          Masochist X “Emotional distress lawsuit!”

          Let me rephrase that, “Masochist X is a flaming *sshole MF!”
          Masochist X “Oh, you like me, you really like me!”
          Sally Fields “Somebody’s gonna git a BIG nun hat where the sun don’t shine”

      2. Eggshell plaintiff.

  15. This decision is a good argument why it is not a good idea to hitch your wagon to populism, no matter how much said populist cause may align with your political worldview. Given the nonsense amicus filings from the legislature, I will side with courts 9 out of 10 times, despite their statist flaws.

  16. Pipe down, you morons. The Westboro protesters are thugs and pinheads. They are denigrating the memory of our brave soldiers and hurting the feelings of their patriotic family members. It’s un-American. Free speech has limitations. The Westboro loonies should be arrested and beaten. And that’s a memo.

    1. You’re looking out for me!

      1. You and The Folks?, emerson.
        I’m putting a signed copy of BoldFresh in the mail for you.

  17. Despite everything that’s fucked up about the United States right now, you still have the First Amendment and a Supreme Court that takes it seriously. That’s enough to make this Canadian jealous.

  18. Now if only such a Supreme Court would rule just as favorably on other, more relevant and personal free speech issues. Then we’d really have something to build a foundation of personal liberty on. The Court’s recent decree is a necessary reminder that the Constitution may not be perfect but it is certainly better than what we have right now.

  19. 8 to 1. Maybe there remains a bit a hope yet. Now if we can just get the same understanding that the same right applies to showing up at W’s or O’s rally with a big sign denouncing the current administration, rather than being confined to a “free speech zone” 5 blocks away so the prez and the media can keep their blinders on.

  20. Because the vast majority of Americans think the Westboro satanists are scum, Snyder could make it his business to shadow their every move, inform the businesses they deal with (grocery, gas station, etc.) what they are all about, and ask them to shun them.
    “Sorry, no bread and milk for you guys.” And, if businesses continue to provide the Westboro satanists with goods, get the public to boycott that business until it does stop. They’ll be so busy at being self-sufficient, they’ll have no time to inflict emotional distress on anyone.

    1. Stalking: It’s the American way!

      1. It’s not stalking, it’s getting the word out about a nice, useful shunning.

    2. There’s also fisticuffs. Probably not a jury in the country that would convict or award damages against the bereaved assailant.

  21. So, as much as I hate the souls of the Westboro cult (and being ex-military, who had friends die inches away from me, I have extra reason), I have to agree with allowing their free speech and assembly.

    Simultaneously though, would constructing a catapult specifically for flinging chicken feces at these assholes (if I claim it’s performance art) be covered also? If so, anyone want to help with the building of said catapult?

  22. How does anybody get offended by WBC at this point? They’ve become funny. Its like being bothered by the violence in professional wrestling. If you watch any recent interview with that crazy lady you can tell its all showmanship. The incident with anonymous was pure comic genius. They make a great heel.

    1. I agree. They really are like performance artists. It’s gone beyond self-parody

  23. I need to read the opinion, because what I’ve gleaned from the media makes me think the decision was in error. That is, if civil courts recognize intentional infliction of emotional distress as causing damage (a debatable issue, to be sure, but let’s just take it as given), why should there be any First Amendment exception? The rights protected by the constitution constrain government from abridging freedom of speech, which certainly should cover criminal sanctions, but civil courts are about equity, damages, and restitution. We have freedom of speech and press, but we also have laws against slander and libel. If a person can prove that an act of speech did real damage to him, he can usually sue in court and collect — although Zenger established that truth is a defense. Westboro also has the “truth” option, of proving that God does indeed punish us for our acceptance of gays. But if they cannot prove this to the jury’s satisfaction, then why shouldn’t they be liable for damages that are recognized by the law in all other situations, and which the plaintiffs prove in court?

    To sum up, I was taught that speech is free, but you can still usually be held liable for any damage caused by your speech — so if you are going to utter damaging speech, you had better be sure that what you say is true.

    Maybe the SCOTUS opinion will explain why that reasoning doesn’t seem to hold sway in this case.

  24. Lot of folks might disagree, but I think the Supreme Court got it right on this.

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